Sheikh Terror are the new underground sensation in ever-swingin’ London. Their rap video called “The Dirty Infidels” has been sent by e-mail to the Arab-language newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat. The paper says the video – unlikely to end up on MTV – may have been produced in a London studio by young, radical Muslims, but mosque talk in London and northern England has attributed it to … al-Qaeda. Sheikh Terror rap in favor of the “fight against the infidels”, praise Osama bin Laden and ask for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to be “burned”, while images switch from September 11 to shots of George W Bush, President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and a Russian soldier executed by a Chechen guerrilla with a Kalashnikov.
Bin Laden may not be cornering the rap market just yet, but this only goes to show how the al-Qaeda brand has taken in the collective consciousness of many. A few months ago, the Rand Corp – a think-tank sympathetic to the US industrial-military complex that boasts Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld as one of its former directors – published an analysis of al-Qaeda by Bruce Hoffman. This was the heart of the system debating whether al-Qaeda was a concept or a virus; an army or an ideology. The author compared al-Qaeda to a bunch of fast, easily adaptable sharks. In essence, al-Qaeda was defined as an indestructible enemy because it’s impossible to circumscribe it precisely. By describing the threat as inexorable, the Rand Corp could then justify relentless, inexorable repression.
This is the way in which the Bush administration also sees it. But is pure repression working against an al-Qaeda now configured as a mutant virus – a constellation of autonomous cells constantly morphing into new shapes and tactics?
It’s no secret for anyone following Islamist movements that since the early 1980s in Pakistan, bin Laden has been instrumentalized by the real masters of what would become al-Qaeda. These were the key operatives at the Maktab al-Khidamat in Peshawar: Egyptians from the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudis and Kuwaitis such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mohamed Atef, Abu Zubaida, Suleyman Abu Graith and Sayf al-Adl. These people were all inspired by the most extreme ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood: Sayyed Qotb. Their ultimate objective was to provoke a fissure between the Muslim world and the West, and then recapture power in Islamic lands. Previous experiments had been a total failure – as in Egypt – or a partial failure – as in Sudan. This until Pakistan-Afghanistan in the early 1980s became the perfect platform, with Osama – flush with money and charisma – incarnating the perfect marriage of medium and message.
These people were all Sunni Muslims. Suicide bombing was never welcomed by Sunni Islam. But it was very much part of the Shi’ite cult of martyrdom. Shi’ites sanction suicide because it represents expiation for the martyrdom of the first Shi’ite imams. Hezbollah in Lebanon used suicide bombing with great success to force the departure of the Israeli occupation force. Suicide bombing then became popular with the Palestinian struggle and all over the Sunni world. But as the years rolled by there was still an infinite abyss to close. Palestinians fighting an occupier who reduced their lives to hell needed no lecture to become suicide bombers. But what about educated Muslims living in comfort – how do they choose to die for a symbol and for a goal that may never materialize?
It’s a testimony to the level of Islamic rage against the West that al-Qaeda managed to steer this large-scale conversion. September 11, 2001 – with its small army of aerial suicide bombers – indeed turned history upside down. But then the whole US intelligence matrix simply could not admit that the country had been struck by a small sect – and not by a sinister, global multinational with unlimited reach.
The al-Qaeda myth
Alain Chouet, a high-level expert at the French Ministry of Defense, is one among many to sustain that this is how the al-Qaeda myth was born – encouraged by the Bush administration spin machine and fully embraced, for the opposite reasons, by the Arab-Muslim world. But now there’s a different situation: as Chouet puts it: “Bin Laden only existed by the interaction between his personality and the al-Qaeda capacity of being a nuisance.” With the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan, but now plotting a comeback, and most of al-Qaeda’s leaders captured or killed, what happens to bin Laden is now largely irrelevant.
The looming big issue in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the spring offensive planned by the Pentagon to capture bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and the remaining al-Qaeda leadership in the tribal areas of Pakistan, most probably Waziristan, where they are thought to be hiding. Asia Times Online has identified extreme skepticism about the operation, in Europe as well as in South Asia. For the Bush administration, as well as for Musharraf’s government, the current status quo is the best option. If bin Laden is killed, he instantly becomes a martyr – and mini-bin Ladens, post-bin Ladens and crypto-bin Ladens will pop up like mushrooms all over Islam. This would also mean the end of the “war on terror”, which is the Bushite passport for global intervention. If bin Laden is captured alive, like Saddam Hussein, he has to be judged: a trial would not only enhance his charisma, but reveal the explosive convergence of objectives between successive US administrations, the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and so-called radical Islam.
Alain Chouet maintains that since September 11, only 30 percent of all attacks and suicide bombings – invariably attributed by the Bush administration to al-Qaeda – “can be really linked to the activity of debris of al-Qaeda”. So the bulk of what is defined as “international terrorism” is now in fact linked to “the internal context of the country where the attacks take place, and nothing links them to al-Qaeda”. The targets may be international, as in Iraq, but the motivation and the objectives are local: in the case of Iraq, the end of the occupation by any means necessary. The attackers or suicide bombers may be radical Islamists, but they have nothing to do with Islam and don’t even relate their actions to Islam.
Many in the European intelligence community now agree: political violence in the Arab-Muslim world has entered a new phase. It has nothing to do with Islam as a whole. It has nothing to do with a common threat. It has nothing to do with a messianic project. But it has everything to do with unresolved, and strictly local, political, economical and social problems. That’s the case in Iraq: a nationalist movement fighting foreign occupation, just like Palestinians fighting Ariel Sharon’s Israel.
Al-Qaeda may have given the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration the perfect motive for bombing Afghanistan and then invading Iraq. But even seriously disabled, al-Qaeda benefits enormously, although not directly. The fact is that the US military machine now rules over more than 50 million Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. Untold numbers are turning to a myriad Islamist radicals groups and sub-groups all over the Muslim world – which they identify as the only force, although incoherent, capable of at least facing and demoralizing bit by bit the American empire.
As for a weakened, disabled al-Qaeda, it is definitely voting Bush next November. Al-Qaeda wants the Iraq occupation to be prolonged, with or without a puppet government: there could not be a better advertisement for rallying Muslims against the arrogance of the West. Al-Qaeda’s and the Bush administration’s future are interlocked anyway. European intelligence sources confirm that al-Qaeda has no capability of carrying out a major terrorist attack on US soil remotely similar to September 11. This hypothetical attack would certainly generate a strong backlash against the Bushite regime for being unable to prevent it. But al-Qaeda could certainly organize something like a small-scale suicide bombing in New York, Washington or Miami during the presidential campaign, with a few American casualties. This would be like help from above for the Bushites.